What Do Women Want? Not To Be Told "What Women Want"

If I see one more person "standing up for women" I believe I am going to throw up.

Women's rights issues are as old as time. The struggle for them - for us, for me, for my daughters - goes back to the beginning. It is largely not men who have fought this struggle, but women. So I am very suspicious when all of a sudden the cause becomes popular.

The exploitation of women is so common and takes so many forms. It's easy to point in horror to physical abuse, like female genital mutilation, rape, and domestic violence. But it's not so easy to clarify other more subtle ways that women are used and then tossed away, along with their "rights."

For example, women (currently) have the right to choose abortion - but that right can easily be used by men who impregnate them and then don't want to deal with the responsibility.

Women have the right to dress however they want, too. But they are bombarded endlessly - endlessly - with marketing messages that tell them to be preoccupied with thinness. To wear things that are more revealing than they might be comfortable with, and at a much younger age.

Women can express themselves just like a man can. But in your average school, the girl who raises her hand and is smart, openly, gets a putdown and a glare from the other kids. Like, "Who do you think you are, better than the rest of us?" Whereas with smart boys, the reaction is, "Of course!"

Often, religious people have used G-d as a way of keeping women down. Men run the churches, the synagogues, the mosques. They are the community leaders and they have the final say. When women want to step forward they are told, "It's immodest." In some quarters their photos are even blurred out of the newspaper.

I once read that the State of Israel was founded on the idea of religious self-determination. In the Jewish State, a Jewish person is free to be as religious, or as nonreligious, as they want. Even to be an atheist is an expression of Jewish religious freedom. Instead of being defined by other people as an Other, this was an opportunity for self-definition and empowerment.

The same thing is true of feminism. There is no one right answer about what is empowering to women. What I like, you hate. What feels to me like liberation, may be oppressing to you. The key is that these decisions are ultimately MY choice. Not a decision that someone has made for me.

So the next time someone talks about feminism, I am hoping very much that they will talk only for themselves and the group that they may officially represent. And leave it to me to say what I believe.

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